This past week has not been kind to Hollywood with the devastating losses of Betty White, Sidney Poitier and Peter Bogdanovich, all veritable show business legends. Though White and Poitier lived well into their 90s, the passing of Bogdanovich at 82 felt particularly untimely, especially considering the legendary director’s larger-than-life personality which included an unrelenting penchant for wearing ascots and thick horn-rimmed glasses up until the very end.
With first wife, famed production designer Polly Platt, by his side, Bogdanovich saw early successes helming such classic films as “The Last Picture Show,” “Paper Moon” and “What’s Up, Doc?” But following the couple’s messy 1971 divorce (which was famously made the subject of the film “Irreconcilable Differences”), his career took a steep downturn with the director becoming far more well-known for his exploits with his much-younger female leads (such as Cybill Shepherd, Colleen Camp and Dorothy Stratten), though there is no denying the indelible legacy he leaves behind.
One rare anomaly of his post-Platt career was the 1985 biopic “Mask.” With a screenplay penned by Anna Hamilton Phelan, the film chronicles the phenomenal true story of Roy Lee “Rocky” Dennis (Eric Stoltz), a young boy who suffered from craniodiaphyseal dysplasia. As explained by the All That’s Interesting website, “The disease severely distorted his facial features due to his skull’s abnormal growth, making his head twice its normal size. Pressure caused by the abnormal calcium deposits in Dennis’ skull pushed his eyes toward the edges of his head, and his nose became stretched into an abnormal shape as well. The doctors told his mother that Rocky would progressively become deaf, blind, and suffer a severe mental disability before the weight of his skull destroyed his brain. Based on six other known cases of the disease, they predicted the boy wouldn’t live past seven.” Rocky proved pretty much everyone wrong, though, living to the age of 16 before ultimately passing away from the disease in 1978.
Throughout his life, Rocky not only persevered but thrived, in large part due to his mother, Florence “Rusty” Dennis (Cher), who instilled a perennially positive attitude in him from a young age. Deemed a “star student” by All That’s Interesting, he wound up graduating with honors from Sandburg Junior High, where he was extremely popular with his fellow students. He also won the “Best Buddy,” “Most Good-Natured” and “Friendliest Camper” awards at the summer camp he attended. Rocky’s life was short but extraordinary, so it is no wonder his story found its way to the screen.
Featuring an all-star cast that, along with Stoltz and Cher, included Estelle Getty, Sam Elliott and Laura Dern, “Mask” went on to become both a box office and critical success, with Cher ultimately winning the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival.